Improper foundation! Let the ignorant people remain silent?

August 7, 2009 | By | 5 Replies More

In a courtroom, a witness is not allowed to speak unless he or she demonstrates a reasonable familiarity with the topic at hand. If witnesses start spouting off without knowing what they are talking about, a lawyer may object, “Improper foundation!” and the judge should sustain the objection.

That seems to be what Bill Maher is getting at in a recent post at Huffpo. Here’s an excerpt:

And before I go about demonstrating how, sadly, easy it is to prove the dumbness dragging down our country, let me just say that ignorance has life and death consequences. On the eve of the Iraq War, 69% of Americans thought Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11. Four years later, 34% still did. Or take the health care debate we’re presently having: members of Congress have recessed now so they can go home and “listen to their constituents.” An urge they should resist because their constituents don’t know anything. At a recent town-hall meeting in South Carolina, a man stood up and told his Congressman to “keep your government hands off my Medicare,” which is kind of like driving cross country to protest highways. I’m the bad guy for saying it’s a stupid country, yet polls show that a majority of Americans cannot name a single branch of government, or explain what the Bill of Rights is. 24% could not name the country America fought in the Revolutionary War.

Many of us are totally in the dark. Many of us want to be informed, but how can you be, given the 1,000 page bills couched in obscure language crafted in backroom deals with the corporate interests who are really running the process through obscenely large campaign contributions?

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Category: Health, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. salmon says:

    Call it the Palin Syndrome – I am lazy and uninformed. I have my mind made up on how things work, I don't listen well and am intellectually uncurious and I don't trust those that are.

    Many of us resort to the juvenile tactic of "winning" an argument by yelling louder and/or resorting to crude insults or name calling. Exhibit A – recent town hall meetings…

  2. Gabe S says:

    Sadly, Erich's last paragraph pretty well sums up my feelings on most political issues. I have a college education and feel like I have a decent understanding of how the government works, but I am afraid to take a strong position on almost any political topic due to feeling inadequately informed. When I approach a new issue, I like to start with the basic facts, then listen to all sides of an argument before coming to a conclusion. However, it is virtually impossible to identify basic facts when every single source is already somehow linked to one side of the argument.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    Gabe makes a critical addition to Erich's post. Effective democracy requires a well-informed population, but real news sources are drying up faster than you can say "reality-based television program." Meanwhile, a disturbingly large percentage of the population gets its political commentary from Fox News, which is about as 'fair and balanced' as was Pravda in the former Soviet Union. The best strategy is to get information from a variety of sources, but too many people are too busy working three jobs to make the payments on their over-extended credit cards. A dangerous thing for a population with the military power of the U.S.

  4. Edgar Montrose says:

    "Effective democracy requires a well-informed population, but real news sources are drying up faster than you can say “reality-based television program.” […] The best strategy is to get information from a variety of sources …"

    I find that there is no shortage of information available to those willing to look for it. But access to so much information requires extraordinary efforts to separate information from disinformation. And even a healthy skepticism is not sufficient. When I first heard the details of "No Child Left Behind", the skeptic in me found it so absurd that I dismissed it as nonsense. Then it turned out to be true! And how is a logical person to cope with with a situation in which the governmental and cultural response to proof that "Abstinence-Only" doesn't work is to promote abstinence even more strongly and to eliminate funding for provenly effective methods? Or to a situation in which a President who is a Constitutional scholar argues that citizens can be held indefinitely without trial and without legal representation?

    So, while lack of foundation is definitely a huge problem in current society, I am not so certain that having adequate foundation will solve it. When even people who have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the issues shake their heads in disbelief, can we really berate the uninformed for their gullibility? In a world where the truth is so absurd that it makes the most outrageous lies plausible, who can blame the uninformed for their fear?

  5. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    In the late 1970's, during the waning of the cold war, I was in college. A classmate of mine pointed out that the news is always biased, and to get a neutral point of view, one could listen to the propaganda outlets from both side and read between the lines.

    This worked because you knew it was propaganda, and in order to maintain credibility, the propagandists would only report on the half of the issues that favored their agendas.

    Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US propaganda machine continued to run unopposed and without anyone to question the credibility. It is well beyond control.

    Also, in college I dated an Iraqi girl. I learned a lot about Iraq back when most Americans thought Baghdad was a fictitious place from The 1001 Arabian Nights Entertainments.

    In 1990 during the buildup to Desert Storm, I was amazed by the number of people, educated by the propaganda of the corporate media, who suddenly thought they were experts on the subject, but couldn't even find Baghdad on a globe.

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